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Why did my digital PR campaign fail?

Digital PR can seem like a mammoth task, especially if you’re new to the practice.

Get it wrong, and you’ve spent hours on research, creating content and infographics, compiling a media list and pitching to journalists with nothing to show for it. But get it right, and your business could see a torrent of backlinks, traffic and hopefully conversions.

It can all feel a little daunting.

In our last blog, we touched on the steps businesses should take before launching a digital PR campaign, as they can impact a campaign before it’s even started. Now, we’re looking at what contributes to campaigns failing – and because digital PR campaigns are generally very multi-faceted, there are a number of variables that can impact a campaign’s success.

Don’t worry – this blog isn’t all doom and gloom. Its purpose is to show you what can contribute to a digital PR campaign underperforming so you can avoid these mistakes in the future and help yours see success.

What makes a digital PR campaign successful?

We’re going to talk extensively in this blog about campaigns failing, so it’s worth outlining what we mean by “success” as it relates to digital PR.

How you judge the success of a digital PR campaign all comes down to your business’s personal goals. Your measurement for success might (and probably will be) different to that of another business, so there’s no one size fits all rule here.

That said, in our experience, the primary goals of a digital PR campaign tend to be to increase:

  • Brand awareness and trust
  • Website traffic
  • Backlinks (which inevitably can lead to the above)

The end-game of each of these goals is really to drive more conversions long-term, but as we’ll explain later in this article, there are a few reasons why conversions aren’t typically used as a KPI for a PR campaign.

And make no mistake – just because there are different measurements of success doesn’t mean you should walk into a digital PR campaign without a clear, overarching goal. It’s important to define what you’d like to achieve from your campaign before launching it, as this will not only help you measure success, but can dictate how you go about your campaign, as well as to whom you pitch.

To show you what we mean by a successful digital PR campaign, let’s look at one.

Bikesure is a specialist insurance broker that compares policies and quotes for motorbikes. Earlier this year, they launched a digital PR campaign that focused on the question of the future of motorbikes, and whether or not the motorbiking community will embrace and ultimately shift toward electric.

By the last tally, the campaign had seen more than 60 linking domains and counting. It was covered in nearly all the biggest UK biker sites, including Visor Down, Motor1, Ride Apart and More Bikes, and even spread as far as Singapore and Germany.

Its wide success was down to a number of factors – first, it examines a hot topic that’s currently popular in the biking world. Anyone who knows an avid biker will know that electric motorbikes are a topic of fierce debate, so there was extensive interest around the content to begin with.

Second, the content was anchored by data, and around a topic for which no data yet existed. The data was packaged up with tidy infographics that were delivered easily to individual journalists via a handy folder.

And finally, the pitch was easily recyclable – should the content not land the first time, there were a number of other angles the campaign lead could take in the future. It discussed the environmental repercussions of electric bikes, so it could resurface around Earth Day. It examined how the industry would progress in the future, so it could be used around discussions on future tech. 

It contained all the hallmarks of a successful campaign, and reaped the rewards it deserved.

Top reasons digital PR campaigns fail

We’ll start by saying that just as there are countless ways a digital PR campaign can be successful, there are countless ways it can fail, too. It’ll all depend on your specific campaign and how your business measures success.

So, what do we mean by a campaign “failing”?

Let’s go back to what constitutes success. If the primary goal of your campaign is to generate more backlinks and you don’t get any, your campaign underperformed. If you didn’t see an uptick in traffic or brand search—or even worse, a decrease—your campaign underperformed.

And if your brand perception took a hit after a campaign backfired in some way, it’s safe to say your campaign definitely wasn’t a success.

Like we said earlier, this can come about as a result of any number of factors. But in our time in digital PR, we’ve found there are a number of sure-fire ways that a campaign can either outright fail or not be as successful as it could have been.

In our experience, here are the worst offenders:

Poor targeting

Who you pitch to can make or break a campaign.

This misstep can have negative consequences for two main reasons. The first involves putting off the journalists themselves – if your media list is comprised of journalists that either don’t cover the topic you’re pitching, or have no interest in it, pitching to them will likely result in you getting blocked. And not having anyone respectable to pitch to is a fast-track to your present and future campaigns failing.

The second involves your target audience. One of the primary goals of digital PR campaigns is inspiring brand awareness and trust within your ideal customer. So, if you’re pitching to the wrong places—i.e. spammy sources your target audience doesn’t read or, even worse, actively distrusts—you’re actually discouraging people from buying your product.

Our top tip: It’s possible to buy or build media lists through special PR CRMs, but we’d argue building your list manually to a certain degree is the way to go. Having access to a regularly updated media database is invaluable, but you should still be reviewing recent stories in your target titles to check who’s writing what.

This is particularly true in the era of Covid-19 because journalists and editors are on more frequent rotation and redundancies have taken their toll throughout the media industry. This means your media list might be in-date one month and outdated another.

A bad pitch

Pitches are without a doubt the heart of any digital PR campaign. If your pitch fails to impress, your campaign has little chance at actually going anywhere.

Journalists get hundreds of pitches a day (think: 600-800 on a standard weekday), so if yours doesn’t stand out or have a clear hook that’s plainly outlined, it’ll likely go either unread, unclicked or deleted. Because if there’s no strong hook, or you can’t clearly detail what’s interesting about your pitch, how can anyone else? Take the time to craft a killer headline and opening gambit, and be prepared to trial several in the early stages of your campaign to see which one works best.

Creating a pitch that “stands out” goes beyond just talking about something new or topical – it also involves positioning that content in a way that stands out, whether that’s through branded infographics, expert quotes or unique data.

And like we said, journalists are incredibly busy, so if you don’t have this content both readily available and easy to access through attachments or linkable folders, it’ll likely go to waste. Your pitch needs to be served up on a silver platter, where all the journalist needs to do is write and press publish.

Our top tip: Sending your pitch through tools where you can see information like open rates and click-through rates (our personal favourite is BuzzStream) can help you pinpoint what’s going wrong in your pitch. If nobody’s even opening your email, it’s likely you’ll need to rethink your headline. Journalists clicking through but not covering the story? It’s your content that needs work.

A poorly-optimised site

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we’ll say it again – if your site isn’t optimised for increased traffic, there’s little point in directing people to it.

This is because not even the best digital PR campaigns can succeed with a low-quality site. The whole point of a campaign is to bring people back to your website, but once they get there, the rest of the work is up to you. 

That’s why conversions are typically a secondary goal of digital PR rather than a primary one – your PR pros can get you more traffic, but their success on this front won’t lead to increased sales if visitors lose interest once they get past the campaign landing page. 

But what makes a site less-than-great?

  • Bad UX – If people can’t navigate your site easily, if the checkout process is laborious or confusing or the first point in which people realise you charge an exorbitant shipping rate, or if nobody can even find the product they’re looking for because your site navigation is so disorganised, your chances at increased conversion as a result of a perfectly-pitched PR campaign are very low.
  • Poor positioning – If you don’t clearly outline why your products will benefit your customers’ lives or why they’re better than the competition, why should they buy from you and not someone else?
  • Bad SEO – When pages aren’t properly optimised for key terms, they’re not going to magically achieve better SERP rankings just because outside sources are linking to you.

The most original PR campaign in the world won’t bring you sales if the products you sell aren’t marketed competitively. A poorly-optimised site isn’t going to rank just because it has great links, and a search-optimised, well-linked site won’t bring you sales if the UX is terrible or there’s no clear reason why a shopper should buy from you instead of someone else.

Our top tip: Get your site in the best shape it can be before launching PR campaigns. If your site looks broken or low-quality when the campaign launches, it could hinder your chances of getting coverage in the first place because you don’t look like a reliable source. 

And if you are getting coverage and seeing an increase in organic and direct traffic, referrals from sites who’ve covered the story, and uplifts in brand search, but no increase in sales, take a close look at why that might be. Is there something wrong with your site’s UX that’s harming your conversion rate? Or is it that your targeting was off, and you’ve received coverage and links for a story that isn’t really relevant to your brand and what it offers?

Missing internal links

This is a particularly critical point that we’ve seen great campaigns forget about.

Content-led PR hinges around a key landing page. You’ll often find that as well as some homepage links, many or most of the links you build are targeted at that specific page, because it’s the original source of data being cited, or it’s an interactive piece people need to visit in order to get the most from the story.

If you haven’t put internal links on this page that then point to additional key pages elsewhere on your site, the link equity isn’t going to be passed on effectively.

This is particularly common when businesses build microsites for PR campaigns and forget to link them to their own homepage, let alone key product pages. In these cases, the microsite might have an incredible link profile, but none of the benefits are being passed to the most important pages.

Our top tip: This is a great example of why it’s important to have a digital PR professional who really understands SEO – or at the very least, to have a digital PR team that works very closely with technical SEO professionals. Someone from a traditional PR background may not think about internal linking when they’re crafting a campaign, but a digital PR specialist – or SEO professional working on the sidelines – will.

There’s a lot that can go wrong in a digital PR campaign, but there’s also a lot that can go right. Every campaign comes with its own unique learning curve, but the more you can use these “failures” to build upon and improve your next campaign, the better.

Next week, we’re hosting a webinar dedicated specifically to launching digital PR campaigns, where our in-house expert Tabby Farrar will discuss how brands can avoid the mistakes we’ve outlined here and ensure their next campaign is a big success. Register here to join.

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